The finest of storytelling about an era of the game you may have never heard of…
MLB The Show 23 is a fantastic game that does a great job of surpassing the foundation it has been building upon since 2006. In our co-op review of MLB The Show 22, Graydon and I found much to love compared to MLB The Show 21 which still feels a bit barren when compared to the later iterations. Just like last year with MLB 22, I – Allan – will be covering the PlayStation 5 version of the game’s Franchise and Storyline modes, while Graydon will be talking about Road to the Show and March to October in the Xbox Series X edition of the game. With that said, we will not be talking about Diamond Dynasty, as that mode seems to have had little change to it in the transition from 22 to 23.
Storylines: The Negro Leagues
Perhaps the greatest addition of this installment of MLB The Show must be the implementation of the Storyline mode focusing on the Negro Leagues and the players who have taken on mythic connotations. For each player, you have about seven or eight storyline episodes to play through. The starting list of players from the era is Jackie Robinson, Buck O’Neil, Hilton Smith, Satchel Paige, and more. This is done in the way that Storyline mode has worked in the previous versions of the game where you are tasked with completing objectives. The difference this time around is that Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, gives a little spiel before you go into the gameplay session. In my opinion, the best part of this whole game mode is the edutainment format it brings with it.
Not only did I learn things such as Satchel Paige taking the information of his actual age to the grave with him, but had unique names for his pitches. “I got a jump ball, a be ball, a screwball, a wobbly ball, a whispy-dipsy-do, a hurry-up ball, a nothin’ ball, and a bat dodger.” Not only does this make Satchel even more of an iconic figure in baseball history but in the section where you are playing as Satchel his pitches are listed as the ones above. To keep things focused on Satchel, the episodes range from his beginning to his final pitching appearance.
March to October
Never has the term “love/hate relationship” been so true as to my feelings on MLB The Show’s March to October mode. It seems like every installment, I pursue a journey through yet another season of baseball, only to trip over the smallest of obstacles in March and continue tumbling to the bitter end. More like… Spiral to October, am I right?
Anyway, I once again fell victim to hometown bias, hopping aboard the Red Sox train – now begrudgingly listed as an underdog. The hardest thing for me is coming to terms with the difficulty curve in March to October. I always have the mentality that if I pick a weaker team, gameplay with naturally be harder. Alas, I do think it comes down to a “get good” argument in the long run. Thankfully, I started off strong this season and as I didn’t quite make the playoffs, I still came away feeling like I had a good time.
Most notably, the little choices you can make along your titular March help make the mode feel more varied. This year, players are given the option to send up to three scouts out, each with their own budget and fields of expertise. I will admit, I had a damn hard time trying to reap the rewards of this system, but just being given the opportunity to hire scouts and seek out better players for my positional requirements helped make my season feel more immersive than ever before. March to October gives back if you let it frustrate you. The mode is a challenge that’s hard to love, but MLB 23 may be the easiest to love yet.
Franchise Mode Update
So my modus operandi in franchise mode with each version of the game is to take a group of teams that I would normally not play as and play as them until better rosters are released. With that said there are players that are not available in the game such as Kodai Senga and Fernando Tatis Jr. with the latter being a result of the suspension that he received last season. The trading system from MLB 22 to MLB 23 has been improved better than the system had gone from 21 to 22 which was more of a downgrade than anything else.
Aside from one main thing in franchise mode this year, there have not been many new additions to the game with the traditional development cycle of these games tending to be around eight months. Prior to the announcement that MLB The Show would be making the leap to other consoles after MLB The Show 20 was released, I was worried that the series would become stagnant in terms of creativity. When taking into consideration the fact that the series is divided between all three platforms in terms of development my concerns seem validated. This is further validated by the trajectory the series has gone from MLB 13 to MLB 23 with the road has gone from a game that can be enjoyed with friends online to a game that you could find some time with if you aren’t willing to pay out the wazoo via microtransactions.
Road to the Show
It’s no secret that my favorite mode on offer in every MLB The Show is Road to the Show. I get all excited with each installment about how they will improve the experience, which allows me to create a ballplayer and watch him grow from nothing. This year, Sony San Diego stepped into the future with the inclusion of “Face Scan,” letting players upload a selfie to the game server to create the most lifelike rookie to date. I was blown away – not only by how easy this process was – but by how well it worked! I remember this feature falling apart in other sports games, making some horrific monstrosities out of glitched photographs. Thankfully, my uploaded selfie did nothing but enhance the character customization, allowing me to skip a lot of the trivial face creation options and get right to the action.
Unfortunately, the action at hand left quite a bit to be desired. Road to the Show feels as stale this year as the past couple, bringing very few changes to the table, and nothing of notable value. The developers had mentioned in some dev diaries that the inclusion of the MLB draft would help you feel more immersed in the story. Sadly, this moment was short-lived and left me feeling nothing I hadn’t felt before. Dialogue options continue to be very barebones, and the return of minigames to strengthen your character only bogs down the off days, leaving me yearning for the standard gameplay of a game day.
I just wish they would do something new to really make me feel like part of the story. Road to the Show has become a mode strictly for “I have 5 minutes to kill, let me jump in.” I don’t care about my custom handmade player at all, because the game doesn’t give me any reason to. I’m happy when he hits a home run, sure, but I wish there were some repercussions for my actions, both on the field and off. Perhaps things will improve in later installments, but as the years roll on, I am starting to lose hope rapidly.
Al: MLB 23 sees the return of Boog Sciambi and Chris Singleton as your commentary team and boy are they even better than last year. They feel more ingrained in the experience and I finally feel like we are moving away from the decades-old model of “this is a major sports game we need to get _____ to make it legit” to a more grounded “this is a game that is standing on its own two feet”. There were moments when it came to the audio cues that I absolutely loved. In addition to the returning presentation features, there are refined elements such as the regional sports network themes. For each team, there is a unique presentation style for said team. An example is the Atlanta Braves having a four-road sign with notable Braves such as Henry Aaron, Greg Maddux, and more being listed in Jersey number and name only.
Graydon: Quite possibly my favorite feature of MLB The Show 23 is the new and improved animation system. If you thought the game looked realistic before, feast your eyes on this puppy. Everything from alternate camera angles for improved replays to the way players go leaping and sliding after the ball works to enhance the gameplay. I found myself barely skipping transitions, as the look of the crowd and the sound of the commentators made everything feel so full of life. One could easily sit down next to you and watch MLB 23 as if it were a real-life baseball game on television. Not to mention, the wider array of swing animations, home run celebrations, etc. All of these features come together to produce a sports game experience like no other. Oozing with charm, there’s no wonder why I can feel myself being drawn to this year’s installment. It’s a game I will pick up to play again and again.
With annual franchises like MLB The Show, the most you can feasibly ask for with each installment is continued attention to detail and a clear display of respect for the sport. Sony San Diego definitely delivered on this with The Show 23, providing new modes that delve into baseball’s history, as well as updating the format for modern day fans. While not perfect in its execution, MLB The Show 23 is yet another example of the franchise maintaining a strong presence in the ever expanding sports-sim genre. While it may not hit the peaks of past games, San Diego Studio is making a new legacy for the expanded audience of MLB The Show.”